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Summer Mvt. 1 Critique & Feedback Appreciated

Discussion in 'Critique & Feedback' started by Paul T McGraw, Oct 7, 2018.

  1. #1 Paul T McGraw, Oct 7, 2018
    Last edited: Oct 8, 2018
    "Summer" will be a multi-movement piece. This movement is in sonata form, and orchestrated for a standardly sized orchestra. I wanted the piece to be at least partly pastoral. As a result, I was trying to keep harmonies a bit simpler than usual for me, with less emphasis on mediant progressions.

    The score is NOT transposed. So the Bb clarinets, F Horns, and Bb trumpets show their sounding pitch, not the written transposed notes that would be shown in the parts. For the horns, I use alto clef for the score only, which is not standard.

    I am a notation oriented composer. So my last step is to do a mid-performance. This is just NotePerformer sound, and I will remove this video after a few months . I would love to get critique and feedback before I take that last step as at this point changes can still be made easily if warranted.

    I have also attached the score as a PDF file.

    Attached Files:

  2. I can't see the score in enough detail to comment on what you've written. That said, just listening to it I have no suggestions. Great work Paul.
  3. Thanks Sam. I should have included a PDF score, so I have now done so above. Thanks.
    Doug Gibson and Sam Miller like this.
  4. Hey Paul, thanks for including a draft of the score. I love your rhythmic variety in the thematic figures (R. Strauss had a similar rhythmic vibe). There are a couple of passages in the flutes that are high for unisons (m.227-230). Some parts where the string section carries the thematic material that I wish were harmonized (m.64-80 is a section). The "summer storm" sections are a welcome contrast. You may want to double check the playability of the tremolos throughout (both winds and strings), but they look possible. I like that you save the subdominant (F) for the big finale - Finlandia style. When the tonality disintegrates at m.288, I have no idea what you're aiming for there.

    I enjoyed the piece (vibrant tempo and festive) and will give it another listen soon.
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  5. #5 Paul T McGraw, Oct 9, 2018
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2018
    Thanks, @Bradley Boone you always impress me. You read my mind! And you always have great suggestions.

    Flutes changed to solo in the referenced section. Although I bow to your experience with flutes, I do not understand why. But I take your word for it and changed to a solo flute there.

    I will double check the tremolos, and examine the orchestration of the sections mentioned.

    At measure 288 I was thinking of the musical equivalent of a kaleidoscope. The harmony has been very staid, clear, and very predictable to this point. Suddenly the tonality goes out of focus, giving the listener a sort of harmonic wake up call (like waking from a dream of a summer day when we were kids) then the harmony gradually comes back into focus for the big plagal cadence.

    That final plagal cadence was thanks to an email exchange with @Doug Gibson who commented on my avoidance of subdominant harmonies. He is right of course, so I decided to try to make a flaw into a feature by studiously avoiding IV to I (plagal cadence) motion until the very end, then making that my final cadence. I hope the ending is memorable.
    Doug Gibson likes this.
  6. Wonderful work Paul! I'm not an expert of the genre but I enjoyed your piece very much!
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  7. I'm late to the party here as I've been extremely busy and haven't had a chance to re-visit this until today. I really like what you did in the section from ms.49 - 85. This is very nice development. I also like how you play the theme in half-time at ms.272. In some of the softer sections, I still wish to hear more question/answer between strings and woodwinds although you do this a bit between strings and brass which is quite effective. Overall, your orchestration sounds/seems quite balanced as far as I can tell. Nice work! I hope you have the opportunity to arrange a live performance.
    Paul T McGraw likes this.
  8. Hey Paul, much great stuff in there! I would love to give critique but first need to know what you are aiming towards. I feel a strong Beethoven influence, and you use "the sonata form", but there is so much influence that does not fit the old classical way, even considering the liberties of Beethoven. For that reason my mind gets a bit confused. The classical form(s) and structures are very tight and conservative. If there is one clear thing that holds it all together it is "the thread" (il filo in Italian) and a deep understanding and respect of tradition. I really recommend Robert Gjerdingen's The Galant Style since it really makes it possible to understand complex composers such as Mozart and Beethoven. In any case I feel a longing towards Beethoven but a confusion in terms of too much impressionistic and late romantic influence. If that even makes sense :D
    In other words, you are not really playing with people's expectations or inner sense of form because there is too much sudden change of harmonies etc.. Listening to it I do not sense "the sonata form". In any case many of the famous 19th century composers failed completely when trying to do something similar to Beethoven or Mozart. For a long time I was wondering why I never liked any Mendelssohn's symphonies and did not find they had much resemblance to Mozart's symphonies (as was the claim). Researching his early instructions I realized that he was never introduced to any of the rigid Italian schematas that was the backbone of Mozart and even much of Beethoven and Chopin's works. In 19th century Europe there was a clear difference between Romantic, often self-taught and highly experimental composers, and the more traditional composers from the south (or from Russia).
    Paul T McGraw likes this.
  9. Just chiming in to ask about this. The "Galant" style is music from around 1720-1770. How does this book help shed light on Beethoven's work 50+ years later ?
    Paul T McGraw likes this.
  10. Thank you for the comments. I am really glad you like the section from M49 to M85. It was written rather late in the composing process and I just felt that the A section was not complete without looking at the A theme in a different way. In fact, I struggled with myself about the length of the piece. I wanted to write more, but I know modern listeners prefer shorter pieces. Glad you like the coda with the A theme in half-time. I am vainly proud of the coda. @Doug Gibson has been coaching me, and he offered the idea of the string runs, which I think add a lot to the excitement.

    So more woodwinds / strings question and answer would in your view make the piece stronger? What would you think if I added more of that sort of material in the recapitulation? The development section would theoretically be best for that type of material, but it is very tightly composed as it is. The development section has a very nice flow in my thinking. Adding material would disrupt the unfolding of ideas as one leads to the next. But I could easily add material to the recapitulation.

    A live performance is my dream. If I won the lottery I would hire an orchestra to perform each of my works. But unless I win the lottery, I have no hope of something so wonderful.
  11. #11 Paul T McGraw, Oct 15, 2018
    Last edited: Oct 15, 2018
    Thank you so much for listening and commenting. I have purchased the Gjerdinger book: "The Galant Style" and plan to read it soon.

    As you mention in your post, "sonata form" was widely used during the romantic era. My favorite composers are Tchaikovsky and Dvorak and they both used it in their symphonies. I have a great appreciation for the Mendelssohn symphonies, and I agree that they are not extremely similar to Mozart, except in terms of the form of course.

    I am really looking forward to hearing more of your compositions. Thank you again for listening.
  12. That is because he never abandoned the use of many of the old schematas. There is also the "grammar" of dividing the musical endings into commas(mi to fa, ending by half-step), semi-colons(half-cadences), and periods (full cadences). I believe Robert refers to the old Italian art as "controlled modulations" something that Beethoven mastered.
    Fascinating Robert Gjerdingen demonstrates a Chopin piece that has a section also build on an old Italian schema although altered harmonically.
    He also demonstrates why Mozart was not the most popular composer - he simply started to ignore the established use of schematas thus actually confusing people. A bit like if a blues artist suddenly ignored the established blues conventions.
    So the whole art was knowing what people expected in terms of harmonic development and what they were used to hearing in terms of established schematic usage. So yes, Beethoven did a lot that is not Galant, but when he did he knew what he was doing as opposed to the majority of romantic composers. I actually stopped studying all this after watching "Here's Johnny" - Mike's John Williams masterclass, but I did invest in the book "The Italian Traditions and Puccini", very informative regarding all this. So Europe was split in terms of musical tradition and education - the north started focusing on Bach choral writings, fugues, and the new theories of harmony, whereas the south(Italy and I think France and also Russia) kept the more institutionalized instructions - rule of octave and partimenti training. Beethoven had a bit of both. He owned all partimenti manuscripts he could get his hands on. His student training book (lessons with Albrechtsberger) is freely available online, and as far as I know it is not a fake. That is a more serious focus on voice leading and the new ideas of harmony. And he was a major Mozart fan.

    There is also a lot written about the Germanic self-referencing style dating bach to CPE Bach and maybe earlier (influencing Haydn Mozart and Beethoven), as opposed to the Italian more traditional and conventional public style (more fashion than art).
    If you guys liked Mike's composition 101 then you will love Robert's book. And it is more research based and scientific and historical accurate.
    You can check out his free youtube lecture,
    Paul T McGraw likes this.
  13. I would think adding new material would be easier although there are a few other sections that might work, possibly around ms. 150 maybe? Certainly its not essential, though providing contrasting with winds might help to balance the tutti sections and emphasis the pastoral feel.
    Paul T McGraw likes this.
  14. Ah, that word "sonata" is used in different ways and often causes more confusion then it helps. There is the book by William E. Caplin "Classical Form" dealing specifically with Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven that I can recommend. I don't know so much about other composers use of classical form. I love Mendelssohn's violin concert, I was just disappointed with his symphonies since I expected them to sound more like Mozart, they are probably good in their own right - it has been a while since I listened to them.
    Good that you mention Tchaikovsky - I am a major fan. Then it will be much easier for me to comment on your music in terms of development and all that.
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  15. All right I printed out your score and plan to go through it with suggestions and general comments. I actually didn't know Dvorak but was happy to find that I really like his music. Reminded me constantly of Beethoven which I like.
    So first just a few questions of the mood - is it a representation of a sheepherder as a hero or something like that, or the feelings he would feel standing looking over the scenery/nature ?
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  16. @Hans Jonathan Hummelgaard it is interesting that you ask, as I was just compelled to think about this specifically in an interchange with another composer. I was not trying to illustrate just one thing, but the feelings or emotions of the subject.

    "A Summer Symphony" - will be in four movements, each in a traditional form (I hope). As I write I am thinking of my memories of summer as a boy about 12 years old.

    Summer Mvt. 1 – Sonata - Glorious summer has arrived! No school! Jubilation, happiness, excitement, and long days outdoors riding bikes, walking in the woods and watching wildlife. Taking off socks and shoes to splash in the creek and playing endless baseball with neighborhood friends. Afternoon thunderstorms standing in the cool rain and loving the feeling of getting soaking wet. Was it all just a dream?
  17. I just listened to Dvorak first movement of his 9th symphony. Wow!. I think I have heard bits of it used by later composers or parts of it are probably played in movies I could imagine. I am now a Dvorak fan also :D

    When listening to your piece I have to say that Noteperformer is giving it a hard time. I would suggest you exaggerate some dynamic markings. If you are on Sibelius you could also add additional dynamic markings to the dictionary just to help Noteperformer with the interpretation. It will not look pretty on paper but it will help the playback.

    I am a bit undecided about the introduction. I have a feeling you could expand it all before the first melodic climax and perhaps also before the melody begins. In any case, I think a real conductor would drag the last hit a bit and start the whole string ostinato SLOWER and then gradually increase tempo before the big crescendo. Now it sounds very mechanic. And I would also recommend that the strings start ppp. This kind of late romantic music is very hard to program in Noteperformer.
    Up to about bar 50 (about 1:10) I really like where things are going.
    Then up until bar 66 I am pretty confused. The themes you use I think works fine but I don't feel like they are being developed and I believe the transition could be improved. You pick it up nicely at bar 66 and I feel a connection to the main theme. I like the crescendo up till bar 85 but with the two hits and the following section I'm completely lost. Then it is like Beethoven just took over :D
    I will look at the rest later, I think you are extremely ambitious to even attempt a work this long and in this complicated genre so deep respect! I REALLY like your orchestration btw.
    Regarding composition length I restrict myself to less than 4 minutes usually and 2 minutes on average. I have been through the majority of early Mozart stuff and could clearly see how he kept the length of his compositions limited to ensure a high quality and I suppose a fast production speed. So you can probably count 200+ compositions before he hit the 7 minute mark!
    Paul T McGraw likes this.
  18. Do you have the William Caplin book on classical form ? it has some nice Beethoven examples of Subordinate (secondary) themes and how he transitions to them. Even though it treats a "classical form" that might be a bit stricter than what you are aiming for I believe it has some very nice points that would also hold true for a more late romantic style.
    I think what confuses me in your main theme, transition, and second theme is that I'm not so sure what is what. One of the points of Caplin is to distinguish between what is a theme and what is more generalized transition or development material (less motivic), and what ought to be the proportions between them. I think my brain is a bit overloaded with themes already before you bring in your second theme. I am also confused since you end the section before it with a bang. In this late romantic style I think I am more used to gradual transitions into the second theme. Alternatively you could try extending the end of the first section with more bangs and more smaller build-ups. That would work as generic material clearing the stage for your second theme.
    So for the second theme starting at bar 85 I was actually expecting that the build up before it would lead into a long crescendo, this is also sort of the norm/expectation you have established with a very long main theme crescendo. The Caplin book is interesting in this regard since it shows how Beethoven started to blur the transition between main theme and secondary theme so that the secondary theme could start without anybody noticing it.
    Paul T McGraw likes this.
  19. #19 Paul T McGraw, Oct 22, 2018
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2018
    @Hans Jonathan Hummelgaard Thank you for sharing your suggestions. I will take a close look at the area mentioned. And yes, I have the Caplin book. IMHO it is the best book on musical form, and one of the best books on music, ever written. It is both descriptive and prescriptive and in my opinion, far more understandable than anything else ever written on the subject. Percy Goetschius also wrote a number of books on music, several on musical form, that are very illuminating but often not as transparent as the Caplin. I would consider the Goetschius books to be almost as good as the Caplin. I believe all of the Goetschius books are now sadly out of print. Goetschius puts his primary emphasis on phrase structures, whereas Caplin's primary emphasis is on harmonic structure.

    In any event, in my original compositions, I do not feel compelled to follow any particular rules, per se and instead attempt to find my own, poor attempt at a personal expression. I suppose the currently fashionable way of saying it would be that I attempt to find my own "voice" rather than simply follow a given set of rules.

    It is very gratifying that you have shown so much interest in this particular composition of mine. It is true that in this movement I made a very abrupt jump to the second theme area. That was intentional, for effect. In other compositions of mine, I use sonata form in different ways. In my Brass Quintet in F minor I believe the transitions between sections are more fluid.

  20. That is a really nice set of compositions, thank you for sharing! I don't have any critique there, except being a bit curious - I gave up on fugue when I got to double counterpoint in Alfred Mann's book. Where did you study fugal writing ? I have a dream to one day go to central Europe and track down one of those fugal improvisational geniuses you can still find hanging around. There is the story of a 20 year old J.S. Bach who quit his job for 3 months to go study fugal writing with Buxtehude.

    I found a link to the "Beethoven as student of Albrechtsberger" book. It is really really good and impressive. It contains his student exercises he did over a period of one year and a half before writing his symphonies. He quit his instructions from Haydn and went to Albrechtsberger instead - to me that suggests he was already so trained in Italian partimenti that he didn't bother anymore but we really don't know what the problem was. In any case Albrechtsberger taught a J.J. Fux species method of counterpoint that was somewhat modernized. I haven't had time to go through the book - just enough to see that the rules of counterpoint are somewhat adapted to the at that time newer theories of harmony.
    I don't know if they allow download, in any case I have the pdf file but it is almost 50mb. I don't know if we can upload that much here. I don't remember where I downloaded it from but in any case it is not copyrighted anymore.

    I'm glad you like the Caplin book so much! He actually endorses the Robert Gjerdingen book.

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